Retrospective: The Pains and Mistakes I’m Thankful For

It’s funny when I think about how useful are the subtle tasks I’ve done in the past in helping me to go through present challenges. It was a hard time to change my behavior and push myself to complete the tasks. I never knew I would be extremely thankful for that opportunity.

Getting close beyond work hours to the people I was working with, editing presentation slides after getting feedbacks from the bosses, dealing with the genius jerks & demotivated co-workers, or explaining our projects to non-technical audience and trying to negotiate deadlines. At that time those experiences didn’t feel convenient; I felt like I was not being myself by trying to face conflicts or doing works that were completely irrelevant with my job descriptions. I kept being stretched out of my comfort zone. Nevertheless, it was worth all the pains and times spent.

But to think of it, the most valuable lessons actually came from the failures. If I, or my team, didn’t make those mistakes, I probably would not have learnt as much. So thank you for giving me rooms for trials and errors even though everyone else was doing perfectly well. Thank you for trusting me to fix my mistakes. Thank you for giving me the responsibilities that most people at my age could not have. These remind me that such opportunities were the reason I chose to work at a tech startup. More importantly, it taught me to deliver nothing less than my best efforts.

 

 

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2nd Week of Studying in The UK: What ITB Can Learn

I know it’s early to conclude anything since I’ve just started my study at UCL 2 weeks ago. Nevertheless, I love the education system here. It just opens my eyes how Indonesian universities are so left behind, far left behind. Here’s a few things I like about pursuing education here, and how it compares with my undergrad experience in Institut Teknologi Bandung:

  1. The lecturers here are willing to spend time for their students. They list their office hours so students can come to discuss class materials and stuff. Moreover, they reply to our email! wow! almost never happen in ITB. They also always encourage us to ask questions and share our opinion in class. I never had such discussion in class during my undergrad. And oh, of course, the module’s materials are up-to-date. It seems like they put a lot of time & effort to prepare it.
  2. Integrated and Single-sign-on system. I can access all the university’s services (e-mail, e-learning, printing, etc.) using one single credential. For someone like me, whose undergrad campus only have several fragmented e-learning systems, 2 different email accounts (in different platforms too!), and no integrated services at all (at least during my time there), I feel amazed by how well-planned is the IT system here.
  3. Careers Service. I feel like the career team & consultants really care about us. They arranged employer engagement session so we can find out more about and network with potential employers. The companies invited are well-known and varied. We can also book a 1-on-1 session to consult about careers or ask them to review our CV, or even practice interview. I remember how I was really lost on my senior year because there was no place to go to consult about career options. But here, everything’s different; I believe we got almost everything we need to prepare for life after graduation.
  4. Reading list. It’s kinda related to point #1 too, but I want to tell more about this one in particular. I know it’s silly, and sometimes I hate having too many reading list as there’s just not enough time to read everything. However, having this reading list help me to understand more about the materials and force me to come to the class fully-prepared. It helps me to be more engaged with the materials & the discussion. It makes me aware of what’s going on outside, and sort of connect the dots between the theory and the real practice.

It is beyond obvious that Indonesian universities still have a lot to improve. Despite ITB being a top ranked university for engineering courses in Indonesia, having a very low acceptance rate, and whose students labeled as “putra-putri terbaik bangsa”, there are just too many flaws. I hope ITB can improve significantly in the near future. What’s the point of having the smartest students in the country if you can’t give them the best education services to help them build their future.

New Home, New City, New Lifestyle

I recently moved to London to pursue master’s degree. Although initially I was looking to rent en-suite room and planning my budget based on it, I changed my mind at last time to instead rent a shared flat. I think this is a good opportunity for me to be more mature, to learn how to share & live harmoniously with other people. I’ve always had problems with that and I hope this time I can adjust myself well.

I am now learning to make my bed in the morning, to extend my cooking ability, and to do what I consider “dirty tasks” such as cleaning. I realized now that I am not so independent after all. There are things I cannot do, but I am trying to acquire that fundamental survival skills now. More importantly, I learn how to live on a budget and buy only the things I really need, despite getting a quite big allowance from my parents. I want to avoid buying stuff just because I can afford it.

So goodbye comfortable life. Goodbye not-having-to-take-care-of-my-room life. No more spending big money just for the pleasure of it. Although I might be previously known as a hedonist, I’ll try to not live up that label anymore. From now on, I’ll learn to be a more modest person.

Trashes

I was on a big music festival in Jakarta last weekend. After enjoying the performance of Phoenix, me & the crowd moved away from the stage. There I saw lots of trashes around. How come people decided to just dispose it irresponsibly? The trash cans weren’t hard to find. The only possibility is that they made a conscious decision to do so. They just didn’t care.

So they can afford a quite expensive tickets but don’t possess the moral consciousness to throw trash on its place? How ridiculous. What a pity. Such a shame for the young generation who can actually be categorized as middle-high class (because they or probably their parents can afford the expensive tickets). I wonder whether they’ve ever received any education.

Thoughts On Starting A Career

When I started my very first full-time job 2 years ago, my boss told me that in order to be successful, I gotta be so damn good early in my career. He didn’t elaborate more about it. But now, after working with a lot of different individuals, being exposed to a lot of projects, and having to solve various problems, I finally got a grasp on how to be considered “so damn good”.

I think there 3 important things to assess when you’re working with someone:

  1. experience
  2. intelligence
  3. work ethics

Early in your career, you obviously won’t have the experience & expertise to do the job. However, it can be compensated if you have high intelligence (which means you learn fast and excel quickly) and good work ethics (which means you will be giving your all to do the work). Once a new onboard has these traits, I’ll definitely bring him into the light and help him blossom.

But some people are smarter than others. And the geniuses are usually the jerks. So if you’re not a genius, you can still stand out if you have a super good work ethics; and that’s what I keep telling my sister. You gotta be more hungry than the others, so that you’ll be unique and they’ll remember you.

As you’re exposed to a lot more projects and people, you start to understand things and people more, and then you build some kind of self-dictionary and you call it experience. Some people are lucky enough to progress faster than the other. As a result, they got more experience in shorter time. But there is also another element called age maturity, and when mixed into your experience it can become something irreplaceable. Later you’ll be thankful if you meet a boss or mentor who are a lot older than you are and whose experience are still closely relevant with today’s situation. Such boss or mentor often know what to do and can make the correct decision. They’re the people whom with you can pickup some useful lessons and inspirations.

At least that’s what I think after 2 years+ of running a full-time job. The starter will always be yourself, your eagerness, and your hard-work. But how far and how fast you can go will often depend on who you’re working with and who’s leading the way.

“It makes a difference, doesn’t it, whether we fence ourselves in, or whether we are fenced out by the barriers of others.”

 

Thoughts on Velocity (and How it Works in Data Science Projects)

If you’re using scrum framework in your software project, you would probably be familiar with the term “velocity”. It’s the measure of how much stuff can be done by the team in one sprint. It’s the total “points” claimed by the team at the end of the sprint after delivering production-ready stories. Some believe that this is a way to measure team’s performance.

Velocity usually varies from team to team due to the different style in estimating story points. In Midtrans, most of the teams use Fibonacci numbers to estimate the complexity of the story. Bear in mind that what we estimate is the complexity, not the time required to get the stories done. So, how the points weight can be significantly different depending on the team and the project.

For engineering/dev team, story-points system is a common practice. For Scrum Master, Project Manager, and Product Owner, this system is very helpful for planning and making promises to stakeholders. An experienced teams are usually able to estimate story complexity accurately, and maintain a stable velocity throughout sprints. So you can make release plan that can fulfill the needs of your customers without having to take its toll by pushing your team to work overtime for weeks.

However, when it comes to team who use kanban or work by tickets, sometimes story points & velocity are not needed or just don’t make sense. For example for merchant support team. They need to respond to & close tickets quickly, and sometimes it’s highly dependent to other teams. Not much can also be planned; there are mostly ad-hoc works. So in this case, story points system are irrelevant. Instead, they’re comparing incoming vs closed tickets to measure performance; and this is the right metrics to look at for their case.

What about data science project? After a year of managing a data science team, I think it’s hard to apply story-point system for an analytics or data science project. When it comes to building a mathematical model or analyzing data, there are too many possibilities. The data may not be ready for some reasons. You may need to do a long data cleaning works. Or maybe, you are not able to build a robust & accurate model even after months of iteration; because the problem is simply cannot be answered by the data you have. So this is the challenge that prevented me from using story-point system and measuring their velocity.

But most of the time, after the “science” part, there will be the “engineering” part. It’s the time to build the app to implement the model or visualize the result of their analysis. This time, the project becomes similar to software projects. So we should be using story-point system here. It may also make sense to start recording their velocity from this stage.

Thus, in my opinion, whether story-point & velocity will be useful will highly depend on the project. It’s nice to have some quantitative measure of performance to help you plan ahead & analyze the progress of the project based on data. However, we shouldn’t be blindly pursuing high velocity, because the most important thing to deliver is the business values, not the stories. In other words, when you’re delivering lots of stories and recording high velocities from sprint to sprint but the stories don’t actually provide business value, then all your work means nothing. So be agile and be sharp!

 

 

Goodbye Dear Friend

Three days ago a friend of mine passed away. He was my junior in college. We weren’t that close in particular, and there were times when we don’t share same opinions. But there were several memorable occasions in which we crossed path; and I think everyone in our college program knows about his achievements.

I remember when our teams competed on a national competition. I was proud of him and his team when they got the 2nd place. It was not easy for a second-year college student to beat 60 other teams to get into the final of that competition. Moreover, it wasn’t his first achievements. He was also a runner-up at an ASEAN-level competition before. He must have learned a lot outside class; and it’s something that other students should be looking up to.

So we’ve just lost a high achiever; someone that could actually make a difference in this country where only a small percentage of the population go to college, and only a tiny portion of the graduates are actually “educated”. It’s really a big loss for all of us.

Goodbye Taro. You will be remembered. Our prayers go with you.

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Goodbye Taro